Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 18 January

Tory donors, cladding and developers

From today’s Politico newsletter:

“In December, the Guardianreported that a major shareholder in Arconic, the company that made Grenfell’s cladding, donated nearly £25,000 to the Conservative Party in 2017. Elliott Advisors UK, which has a 10 percent holding in Arconic, made donations to the Tories in 2008, 2016 and 2017. Last year, Private Eye revealed that European Land and Property, which put Grenfell’s ACM cladding on the Paddington Walk development in London, donated £200,000 to the Tories. Residents of Paddington Walk were billed £40,000 to have the cladding removed. The Tories have received more than £11 million in donations from property developers since Johnson became PM. That’s nearly a quarter of total Tory donations from July 2019 to March 2020.”

A303 to be dualled near Yeovilton

This is welcome, removing one bottleneck, but doesn’t it just shift the problem westward? – Owl

Daniel Mumby, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk 

Upgrade for major Devon to London route

A crucial section of the A303 in Somerset will finally become a dual carriageway after the government gave the go-ahead to a £250 million upgrade.

Highways England put forward proposals in 2019 to dual the single-carriageway stretch of the A303 between the Podimore roundabout near Ilchester and the Sparkford roundabout, north of Yeovil, where the road meets the A359.

A decision on the plans has been repeatedly delayed, first by the 2019 general election, then by the coronavirus pandemic and most recently by concerns about “bird strike” impacting on the nearby RNAS Yeovilton. But the Department for Transport has finally given the scheme the green light, with construction expected to be completed by 2024.

The scheme will see a stretch of around three miles dualled between the two roundabouts, with the new carriageway largely following the footprint of the existing road.

On an average day, the road carries 23,500 vehicles, but numbers increase significantly in the summer, particularly at weekends, with many using it as a route to the Glastonbury Festival from London and the south east.

The decision follows the government’s approval of a separate scheme in November 2020 to dual the A303 near Stonehenge in Wiltshire, including the creation of a new tunnel through the World Heritage Site.

Nick Harris, acting chief executive of Highways England, said: “We welcome the secretary of state’s decision to upgrade the A303 between Sparkford and Ilchester. Along with the A303 Stonehenge tunnel project, it is part of the biggest investment in our road network for a generation.

“This scheme will support economic growth and facilitate a growth in jobs and housing by creating a free-flowing and reliable connection between the south east and south west. It will also tackle a long-standing bottleneck, reduce journey times to the south-west and improve traffic flows in that area at peak times and during peak seasons.”

Highways England has estimated that the Somerset scheme will cost between £100M and £250M to complete, with construction expected to begin by the end of 2021 and lasting until 2024. The new road will also include new and replacement slip roads, junctions and road bridges to replace existing junctions and direct access roads.

Lee Nathan, south west regional chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Upgrading the single carriageway sections of this important route is key to supporting the south west economy, particularly as the only alternative route via the M4 and M5 into the south west is already heavily congested.

“We believe that more investment should be directed to improving key links on the A-road network across the UK as a way of supporting our local regional economies. As a result, we are wholeheartedly in support of this new scheme.”

Highways England is also seeking to progress a scheme to dual the A358 between the Southfields roundabout in Ilminster and Junction 25 of the M5 in Taunton.

Preliminary design work for this scheme is currently being undertaken, with a further round of public consultation due to be announced later in the year.

Nurses failed by years of Tory cutbacks

Letter www.theguardian.com

The failure of Nightingale hospitals came as no surprise, though the rapid conversions and equipping remain interesting. Where were thousands of new hospital beds stored, for example? They seemed to have appeared out of nowhere (The empty Nightingale hospitals show the cost of putting buildings before people, 27 January).

I was a senior manager in nursing education in the 1990s, when training moved from what has been dubbed “apprenticeship-style training” to a university-based education. The battle to achieve this had been long and bitter, with the Conservatives being wholly against this transition as student nurses had been such a cheap way of staffing hospitals. The change was agreed, and the then Conservative government cut training numbers overnight by up to a third.

We are still living with the consequences of this. Combined with a reduction of thousands of hospital beds over three decades, the effect on the NHS is plain to see. No time for recovery, no time for reflection and fewer opportunities for ongoing development.

Successive governments, mainly Conservative, have tried and failed to convince the public that the NHS is a drain of the public purse and have quickly learned that any threat to it could cost them the next election. That hasn’t stopped them significantly reducing the service and carrying out a planned programme of asset stripping. With every change in government, the overstretched staff must wonder what is coming next.

Karen Jacob

(Retired nurse/nurse lecturer), Devon

Grenfell-style cladding “cover-up” – Open Democracy

From Open Democracy:

Do you live in a block with Grenfell-style cladding and you are not being told about it by your landlords?

If your home was a possible fire risk, you’d want to know, wouldn’t you? If it was covered in Grenfell-style cladding, you’d expect the authorities to tell you, surely?

Think again. 

You’re one of 30,000 people who have backed our call to defend Freedom of Information. Today, we’ve broken another story which shows exactly why this is so important.

It turns out the British government has been advising local councils to block Freedom of Information requests that could identify buildings with similar cladding to that implicated in the tragic 2017 Grenfell fire, which killed 72 people.

It’s the latest scandal which shows just how vital it is that we defend our information rights.

Will you forward this email to everyone you know, and ask them to sign this petition?

Freedom of Information (FOI) laws are supposed to let citizens and journalists get vital information from any public body. Without FOI, we wouldn’t know that MPs were claiming thousands of pounds in taxpayer-funded expenses for duck houses and moats.

But now our FOI rights are under unprecedented attack. Not only has the UK government blocked details of thousands of Grenfell-style fire-risk homes, we’ve also uncovered how a secretive unit inside Michael Gove’s Cabinet Office routinely screens Freedom of Information requests and blocks the release of ‘sensitive’ information across government.

Experts say this ‘Orwellian’ practice is breaking the law – so we’re challenging the government in the courts. But to build the strongest possible case, we need a loud public outcry. 

We have a big campaign planned for the coming weeks: can you share this email with friends, family or colleagues, to let them know what’s going on?

Hold builders to account and resolve this housing scandal

Labour’s non-binding vote today on the cladding scandal. Will our local MP’s back it?

Yesterday’s Sunday Times Editorial:

The Sunday Times editorial  www.thetimes.co.uk

It is now more than 3½ years since the avoidable tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire. The loss of life in that disaster will never be forgotten, and never should be. It has been followed by dither and delay by the government in dealing with the many other properties in Britain also encased in flammable cladding. This was why, many months ago, The Sunday Times launched the Safe Homes for All campaign, exposing what we have described as the hidden housing scandal.

That scandal has produced worry and heartache for millions of people living in leasehold flats with unsafe cladding. Hayley Tillotson, a 28-year-old first-time buyer in Leeds, was forced to declare herself bankrupt when she could not meet the extra costs of fire patrols in the building in which she lived, and she will not be the last. Through no fault of her own, she will have to live with that for the rest of her life.

Tomorrow Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, will meet victims of the cladding scandal before an opposition day debate in the House of Commons, which will focus on the government’s tardy and inadequate response. The debate will focus on the huge bills faced by leaseholders trapped in unsellable properties that they bought in good faith.

Labour’s motion for tomorrow’s debate picks up on most of the themes highlighted in our campaign. It will call for a deadline of next year for all the affected buildings to be made safe, starting with those at greatest risk, and for such a deadline to be legally enforceable.

It will also call on Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, to “urgently establish the extent of dangerous cladding and prioritise buildings according to risk” and “provide upfront funding to ensure cladding remediation can start immediately”. Mr Jenrick, it adds, must “protect leaseholders and taxpayers from the cost by pursuing those responsible for the cladding crisis”, and provide monthly updates on his progress.

The debate is an important one, even though it is not binding on the government. This scandal was in place well before our lives were changed by the pandemic, and it is not going away. The housing secretary is reported to be engaged in a battle with Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, over the release of £10bn to remove and replace the dangerous cladding in the affected homes, but even that may not be enough, and Mr Sunak is looking for ways to reduce the budget deficit, not add to it.

The solution should be straightforward, and it does not lie in the recommendation from the government’s adviser on the issue, the insurance executive Michael Wade. He recommended that leaseholders be offered low-cost loans. That is the last thing leaseholders, many of whom already struggle with bills, want, and they should not have to take them.

Instead the government should look at what it has done for the housebuilders and construction firms and how it can claw it back. Since it was launched eight years ago, the Help to Buy scheme has transformed the fortunes of the builders. The former chief executive of Persimmon, one of the country’s largest housebuilders, was due a £110m bonus, until it was revised down to an only slightly less obscene £75m.

As recently as July the chancellor provided the housing sector with a £4bn tax cut by reducing stamp duty, and it is pressing him to extend it beyond March 31, when it is due to end.

Those who created this problem — the builders and their suppliers, some of whom have shown a blatant disregard for public safety — should be made to pay for it. The blameless leaseholders should not. The government has to use its muscle, and not be influenced by whether some of these businesses are Tory donors. If not, more than 4.5 million affected leaseholders will know exactly who to blame.

Cranbrook beware!!!!!

“A consultation on a nationwide pavement parking ban concluded at the end of 2020 with the results due in just a few weeks’ time.

A national ban could see a £70 fine issued to any road user who parks on the pavement similar to current legislation in London.”